Browse Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Library

By Patrick Williams

On Monday’s National Poetry Month-themed Sound Beat episode, we heard some lines from Edna St. Vincent Millay’s 1931 book of sonnets Fatal Interview. Brett mentioned a note of dedication in the copy of that book found in the poet George Dillon’s library after his death. But have you ever wondered what was lurking in Edna’s own library?

Digital Humanities scholar and researcher Amanda French is currently helping to make possible a digital glimpse into the library at Steepletop, Millay’s home in Austerlitz, New York from 1925 – 1950.  The Steepletop Library catalogs almost 1200 books present there.


Record Store Day

by Patrick Williams

Record Store Day - rsdApril may be known as the cruelest month, but not if you are a fan of vinyl records. Sales and production of new vinyl LPs have experienced a staggering rise in the the last decade or so. One expression of this renewed popularity comes around on the third Saturday of every April. It’s the annual event most record collectors know of simply as RSD.

Record Store Day, now in its seventh year (April 19th this year), is a celebration of local, independent, brick-and-mortar record stores, more specifically, those that carry vinyl records. With the sheer amount of reissues and special RSD-exclusive vinyl released each April, Record Store Day is also a major driver in the production of vinyl records these days. The list of RSD releases this year numbers over 400. Many of these releases are very limited– in some cases only 500 or 1,000 copies are distributed among the hundreds of participating stores. This means that the crowds form early outside stores (even with the risk of being soaked in an April shower), eager to for the chance to get in and get what they can. It feels a lot like waiting in line for concert tickets (though that’s one relic of the pre-Internet world I can happily do without).

As a long-time record collector, I’m both amazed by the enthusiasm that RSD brings out in the vinyl community, and frustrated by the increase in competition for the releases that in earlier years, I could have just waltzed in and picked up. But mostly, I’m just pleased RSD’s success provides a tactile, social, and public way that fans can support the networks of artists, labels, pressing plants, distributors, and independent stores that supply them. I don’t feel a lot of those connections in the realm of digitally-distributed music.

Record stores, for me, have always been outposts– places to find music, to learn about local events, to get a sense of a new city. Record Store Day is one of many days each year I spend supporting them. But if you have not experienced it yet, you may be surprised to see the vinyl-fever-fueled mob at your sleepy local store on April 19. Even David Lynch is getting into the action this year. Just remember to bring an umbrella.


Signals, Calls, & Marches

By Patrick Williams

For college football fans, the early winter weeks can be brutal— not just because half of our teams will inevitably lose their final games, but because the weekly tradition of rooting for those teams recedes into memory as players declare for the NFL draft, coaches get fired, and we get a lot less marching band in our lives.

This week is Bowl Week at Sound Beat, and we’ll be listening to some of the music behind the collegiate football traditions we celebrate each and every fall. Of course, five days of episodes only allows us to scratch the surface of the connections between music and football. But behind every fight song, marching performance, and baton toss, there is a story.

Military Marches

We’ll look into the Naval Academy’s “Anchors’ Aweigh” in an episode this week, but that song it is only one of the Service Academy tunes football fans are used to hearing. West Point’s “On, Brave Army Team,” composed by Philip Egner, a West Point music teacher, was written in 1911 and was recorded the same year.

The Air Force Academy’s “The US Air Force Song,” (originally penned as “Army Air Corps” by Captain Robert M Crawford) might be better known than either of those two tunes. With its familiar “Off we go, into the wild blue yonder…” opening, the song was a  last minute stand-out among over 700 entries in a 1939 contest for an Air Force theme (“Many of the songs were submitted by persons of unquestioned patriotism, but with obvious signs of illiteracy.”).


The US Coast Guard Academy’s “Semper Paratus” (composed in the 1920s by Captain Frances Von Boskerck), which welcomes the USCGA Bears onto the field each fall, is an equally bombastic song, if not as well known.


A Familiar Tune

The Old Dominion Athletic Conference powerhouse Washington and Lee’s fight song, “The Washington & Lee Swing” might be familiar to fans of other schools, and not just those who are frequent opponents of the Generals. “The Swing” is the result of a multi-year collaboration among several early 20th Century W&L students, but its reach extends far beyond the campus.

Over the years, dozens of schools have adapted the popular song for their own teams. Perhaps best known, Gonzaga University was among this group until recently, debuting a new alumnus-penned rouser in 2010.

The Seawolf Growl

Not every new fight song recalls the brassy and brash tunes of the early 20th Century, though. In the 1980s, University of Alaska Anchorage enlisted the assistance of an advertising firm to attract fans to Seawolves athletic events. The resulting minute-long rocker (complete with noodly guitar flourishes and the growls of angry Seawolves) eventually found its way into the UAA basketball warmup playlist, and was adopted as a fight song for all of the Seawolves’ teams.

A Very Specific Competitive Spirit

Like the UAA Seawolves song, many collegiate fight songs attempt to capture something unique about the character of the school– they might mention regional geographic features or team colors; they may invoke the names of mascots or stadiums– all in the name of firing up their home crowds.

But some schools’ fight songs seem specifically engineered to fire up the opponents, taunting them, by name, in their lyrics. This 2009 Bleacher Report Feature highlights 14 such fight songs that directly call out their teams’ rivals.

The Texas / Texas A&M rivalry features fight songs in direct, focused dialogue with one another. “Texas Fight” was written as a response to “The Aggie War Hymn,” which will be featured in one of this week’s episodes. But some songs’ taunts are more diffuse; Georgetown’s checks nearly a half dozen opponents’ names.

It may be that the only marches and fight songs that get us more worked up than those of our own, are those of our rivals, played in celebration of a victory. Let’s just be thankful they tend to cut those from the TV broadcasts.

For more information of the origins of your favorite fight songs, check out Studwell & Shueneman’s College Fight Songs: An Annotated Bibliography, a helpful source for this post.


“You can’t cook with a test-tube mind.”

By Patrick Williams

“Food is important. Especially at meals.”

These are Arthur “Bugs” Baer’s opening words to George Rector’s 1937 book Dine at Home with Rector: A Book on What Men Like, How They Like It, and How to Cook It. This thick volume documents the adventures and advice of the restaurant titan and gastronimical pioneer whose restaurant was immortalized in “If a Table at Rector’s Could Talk.”

After the restaurant that fed his fame closed in 1922 (thanks to prohibition, according to then-owner Lucius Boomer),  George Rector was something of an early twentieth century Mark Bittman or Bobby Flay. He hosted a CBS radio show entitled “Dine with George Rector,” and wrote a column for the Saturday Evening Post, and published at least 7 cookbooks.

In Dine at Home with Rector, George holds forth his opinions on proper pancake preparation, outlines what meals men should prepare when their wives are away, engages in some amateur anthropology of global tea drinkers, and argues whether or not one should dare cut into hot bread (one should not).

Rector was not known to not shy away from controversial statements, and one quote from Dine at Home with Rector in particular seems a little out-of-sync with our times:  “French and Italian coffee seems to be a natural enemy of mankind.” One assumes Rector would be infuriated that American coffee drinkers regularly employ Italian words in their daily coffee orders. Apart from that, much of what Rector introduced to American tables is still quite palatable today. See for yourself by checking out the recipe index in Dine at Home with Rector to get more advice on eating everything.


The Morbid Moods of Vernon Dalhart

The Morbid Moods of Vernon Dalhart - stuebenville 300x224

By Patrick Williams

Disaster and tragedy were all-too-common facets of everyday life in early 20th century America. One need only browse the front page of any regional newspaper of the era to encounter tales of lives torn away in struggles with the technologies being developed in the name of making life easier.

The newspapers had no monopoly on these bleak stories, however. Disaster and death were often featured as subjects of the some of the most popular recordings of the day. The Columbia Recordings advertisement seen below (from the  June 4, 1926 Anson Western Enterprise) features nearly a dozen recordings of this nature: “The Sinking of the Titanic,” “The Death of Floyd Collins,” The Fatal Wedding,” “The Dying Girl’s Message,” “The Wreck of the 1256,” “The Freight Wreck at Altoona,” & so on, & so on…

The Morbid Moods of Vernon Dalhart - VDAD 142x300

You’ll notice Vernon Dalhart as one of the names among the performers of these songs. One of the top recording artists of the era, Dalhart made his fair share of recordings with chilling themes. In fact, his “The Wreck of the Old 97,” was a best selling single and put country music on the map (a peek at Dalhart’s Victor discography reveals this was not his only morbid hit).

The Belfer Archive Digital Cylinder Connection has many recordings of Dalhart’s songs, disaster-themed and otherwise (you can listen to many of them here), but my favorite is “The Wreck of the Shenandoah,” which memorializes the US Naval dirigible’s untimely demise.

The song describes the events of September 3rd, 1925, (reported in the Stubenville Herald-Star above) when the USS Shenandoah crashed in Ava, Ohio, as the ship’s Commander, Zachary Lansdowne, attempted to avert a line squall. It details the Shenandoah’s historic and fateful journey, and focuses on the Commander and the other 13 crewmembers lost that day. The song fails to mention, however,  the miraculous survival of 29 additional crew. Watch the brief documentary below (which features Dalhart’s tune) for more details about Lansdowne, the Shenandoah and its demise.


The Real Thoroughbred Races of 1948

By Patrick Williams

It was a big year for the Kentucky Derby, and for thoroughbread racing in general, but it wasn’t because of the triumph of Feetlebaum in Spike Jones’s 1948 William Tell Overture.

That year, Citation, ridden by Eddie Arcaro and bred by Calumet Farm, won not only the Kentucky Derby, but also the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes consecutively.

Visit ESPNClassic to read more about that exciting 1948 Derby race.

Citation was the eighth of only eleven Triple Crown winners to date, and the fourth horse in the 1940s to reach all three Winner’s Circles in a single year. Affirmed was the last horese to take the honor nearly 35 years ago, on June 10th, 1978.

Incidentally, music plays a big part in each of the Triple Crown events; fans sing along to a unique tune before the stakes race at each park.

At the Kentucky Derby, we hear “My Old Kentucky Home,” the official state song of Kentucky.

At the Preakness Stakes, we hear “Maryland, My Maryland”, the official state song of Maryland.

And at the Belmont Stakes, well, that’s a little more complicated. Up until 1997, it was the 1894 James Blake & Charles Lawler-penned tune, “The Sidewalks of New York.”

From 1997 on, we have heard the familiar “Theme from New York, New York,” except in 2010, when crowds were treated to a deviation from that tradition in the form of Alicia Keyes’s hit “Empire State of Mind,” by Jasmine Villegas. Many fans were not pleased.

Will any of this year’s horses have a shot at the Triple Crown? We need only wait until the Preakness Stakes on May 18th so see if Saturday’s Derby winner joins 2012’s I’ll Have Another among the 22 “Double Crown” winners.